After a neck-and-neck first half, the Libby Loggers stiffened defensively to drop the Butte Central Maroons 49-28 in the opening round of the Class A football playoffs Nov. 2.
Despite the final score, the two teams matched up evenly for much of the game. Whereas the Maroons, led by senior quarterback Thomas McGree, took to the air, the Loggers (7-2 during the regular season) stuck to the running game.
Led by junior quarterback Jay Beagle, starting over an injured Jeff Offenbecher, the Loggers took a 7-0 lead early with a touchdown run by junior running back Dawson Young. The drive began following an interception by junior defensive back Ryker McElmurry.
But the Maroons nipped at the Loggers heels. By the end of the first quarter, the score read 7-6, with Libby in the lead only by the grace of a missed extra point kick. When the Loggers broke away to make it 13-6 in the second quarter, off of a run by Beagle, the Maroons responded in kind and took the lead with a two-point conversion.
Libby regained the lead with a 24-yard touchdown catch by Caden Williams hefted up by Beagle, who had what head coach Neil Fuller described as “the best game of his high school career.”
“He, by far, played the best game of his life,” Fuller said. “I’m so proud of him.”
If there was a turning point, it came early in the fourth quarter when a pass made behind the line of scrimmage slipped through the hands of Maroons senior wide receiver Guido Ossello.
The ball came to the ground about the same time as Ossello, who was leveled a split second later. (Injured, Ossello was taken off by cart, but was later seen walking the sidelines).
A hard-charging Hunter Hoover came upon the ball a few yards away from the crumpled Ossello. The sophomore linebacker stopped and looked around uncertainly until, as one, the crowd and his coaches screamed at him to pick it up.
“I was just seeing if there was a whistle or not,” Hoover said, grinning after the game. As soon as he knew the ball was live, he said he leapt into action, scooping it up and running for a touchdown.
Hoover’s instincts put the Loggers up 35-21 with 8:32 left in the game.
An interception by senior defensive lineman Tanner Marshall just minutes later led to a one-yard touchdown run by Young. After grinding it out with Butte Central, Libby suddenly had a 42-21 lead.
Young would go on to score again on Libby’s following drive, making it 49-21. Though the Maroons would find the end zone once more, it was only at that point, in the final few minutes of the game, that Fuller said he could relax.
“They’ve got a great passing quarterback,” he said. “If they score and recover an onside kick, they’re back in it.”
An excellent passing game by the Maroons and a few “goofball penalties” helped keep the game close, Fuller said. He pointed to the trio of deep passes Butte Central enjoyed as a vulnerability that could cost the Loggers dearly in the future.
But the team suffered no turnovers, and with Beagle working off a jolt of confidence from the prior week’s victory over Frenchtown, the Loggers were able to run the remaining time off the clock to clinch the win.
“We just played our hearts out,” said Beagle, who credited his offensive line and the cheering fans with the team’s success. “It was just a good game.”
The victory puts Libby on the road next weekend to face Laurel. The Locomotives are coming off of a bye week after finishing second in their league.